By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
‘The Life Ahead’
Netflix presents a film directed by Edoardo Ponti. Written by Ugo Chiti, based on the novel “The Life Before Us” by Romain Gary. Rated PG-13 (for thematic content, drug material involving minors, some sexual material and language). Running time: 95 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles.
When Sophia Loren first started appearing in films in minor roles, we were just five years out from World War II. By the late 1950s, she had become an international movie star, and here we are in 2020, and Sophia Loren is starring in her first major project in a decade, and that’s just such a gift and something to behold.
The movie is called “The Life Ahead,” and it is directed by Edoardo Ponti, who is Loren’s son, and while it is unabashedly sentimental and at times goes over the top with the symbolic melodramatic devices, it is a beautifully shot and heartwarming film, and the 86-year-old Loren is magnificent and regal and fierce and funny and beautiful and screen-commanding throughout.
“The Life Ahead” is based on the best-selling novel by Romain Gary that was adapted for the Simone Signoret-starring, 1977 foreign language film Oscar winner “Madame Rosa,” but the setting has been changed from France to the city of Bari in Puglia, Italy — the southern region that makes up the “boot” on the Italian map. (As you would imagine, the scenery is spectacular and the cinematography by Angus Hudson has a lush and timeless quality.)
Loren’s Madame Rosa is a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute who now makes ends meet by watching the children of streetwalkers and various misfits who need a place to stay. Madame Rosa is a loving but strict caretaker who genuinely cares about the children living under her roof, but lately has been prone to moments of forgetfulness and episodes of wandering off, lost in a haze. She also keeps a secret room in the basement of her apartment building, where she feels safe — just as she did when she would hide under the floorboards at Auschwitz.
Madame Rosa’s “introduction” to a 12-year-old Senegalese refugee known as Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) comes when he tries to steal her purse, so she’s not exactly ready to welcome the boy with open arms when the neighborhood doctor (Renato Carpentieri), who is in over his head as the boy’s guardian, pleads with her to take him, just for a few weeks.
Madame Rosa protests that she’s too old and tired to take on such a wild child, and she might not be wrong, as Momo is a sullen and rebellious presence around the house and spends most of his time roaming the city streets, dealing drugs and partying and hanging out with the very definition of the wrong crowd.
Ah, but Momo is more troubled than troublesome, more wounded than capable of hurting others, in tried-and-true sentimental-movie fashion. For maybe the first time in his life, he’s in a circle of people who come to care about him, from Madame Rosa to Lola (Abril Zamora), a trans woman who lives in the same building as Madame Rosa and has a winning spirit and a big heart, to Mr. Hamil (Babak Karimi), a kindly Muslim storekeeper who gives Momo a job and teaches him about literature and the value of honest work. With the help of these almost Dickensian characters, there just might be hope for young Momo.
Sophia Loren and young Ibrahima Gueye are so natural and genuine together, it’s almost as if the camera is eavesdropping on real life. Madame Rosa is but a few steps from the end of her life’s journey while Momo is just finding his footing, but the relatively short time they walk together is a time to be treasured.
In space, no one can hear you laugh.
To be fair, the Showtime series “Moonbase 8” isn’t actually set in outer space but in a simulation, and it does yield a couple of chuckles per episode, but given the comedic credentials of the three leads, it’s a disappointingly flat and tame endeavor that falls far short of even the middling success of the recent Steve Carell vehicle “Space Force.”
Created by Jonathan Krisel, Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly and starring the latter three, “Moonbase 8” launches with graphics informing us NASA is about to construct the first manned base on the surface of the moon, and has built several simulation bases to train candidates for living and working there. Moonbase 8, in Winslow, Arizona (such a fine sight to see …), is one such faux-base, and by the looks of things, NASA must have poured hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars into the flimsy-looking operation.
Reilly plays Robert “Cap” Caputo, Armisen is Dr. Michael “Skip” Henai and Heidecker is Prof. Scott “Rook” Sloan, and the characters aren’t much more interesting than those bland nicknames. They’re all amiable, low-key, team-oriented fellows — and they’re various degrees of dim, leading one to wonder how they ever got past the NASA gift shop, let alone chosen as candidates to lead the first base station on the surface of the moon. That’s basically the joke of “Moonbase 8,” that it’s a workplace comedy featuring guys who are a kinder, gentler version of “The Three Stooges in Orbit.”
In the series premiere, the crew has been isolated in the simulation base for 200 consecutive days, and NASA has marked the occasion by sending a $100 Harley-Davidson store gift card. “I think it’s pretty cool. They’ve got cool leather gloves you can do,” says Rook, and Skip chimes in: “There’s a cafe in there, too. You could get something to eat.” This establishes the soft-humor tone for this episode and the season on balance. Inoffensive, wry, maybe worth a slight smile, underwhelming.
Like the denizens of “Gilligan’s Island,” the crew is often presented with a dilemma that must be resolved within the confines of a roughly half-hour adventure. In Episode 1, there’s a water shortage, which leads to the inevitable scene of the men drinking “de-urinized” water (“It’s been de-peed,” assures Skip) and the obligatory group spit-take that follows. In various episodes, they have to contend with a local prowler who is stealing items from the base; an impending cattle stampede that could go right through and over the base; Cap getting sick and placed into quarantine; and the occasional guest arrival who provides the impetus for sitcom-level conflict and somewhat dated humor. (I kinda feel the time has come and gone for “Apocalypse Now” references.)
Reilly, Armisen and Heidecker handle the material like the seasoned pros they are — some of the dialogue feels improvised and can be pretty clever — and each episode sails by in relatively brisk fashion, but the storylines are at best mildly involving, and the characters so thinly drawn, you don’t feel anything approaching a binge-twinge when one episode ends and another is about to begin. This is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of show, and in a streaming/premium cable world where so much material is available, there’s no pressing need to spend your time on Moonbase 8.
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